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Updated 10:00 AM April 14, 2008




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Student mental health study examines social identity, trauma

A substantial number of students at the University have directly experienced trauma, according to Phase II of a student mental health study. Of the students surveyed, 15.5 percent experienced traumatic events such as violent physical attack, auto accident, near drowning or sexual assault.

Altogether, 40 percent of those surveyed had some experience with trauma, including witnessing an event or learning about it.

The College Student Mental Health Survey, conducted by Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), is a longitudinal research project designed to identify trends in college student mental health involving the whole range of issues experienced by a diverse sample of U-M students, says Todd Sevig, director of CAPS. "It is the first study to track long term trends on multiple issues, and to specifically look at social identity group differences."

Phase I was completed two years ago. In addition to replicating the first study, Phase II added three areas of inquiry: trauma, Internet use and non-suicidal self-injury behaviors.

"We found significant differences by social identity groups in these new areas," says Johanna Soet, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and co-author of the study with Sevig. "For example, while all identity groups in the sample have experienced trauma, females compared to males and graduate students compared to undergraduates are more likely to have experienced a direct trauma. Further, the Latino/Latina group reported a high rate of direct trauma."

A significant difference in social identity groups also showed up in the area of Internet use. Overall, 36 percent of the sample reported that use of the Internet was causing problems in their academics; however, males reported this problem at 40 percent, with females at 31 percent.

"We found on closer examination that males reported a higher rate of 'surfing' compared to females, while females reported a much higher rate of using e-mail or instant messaging, chat rooms and social networking Web sites. Undergrads (compared to grads) reported a much higher rate of using Facebook or MySpace," Soet says.

Sevig says most of the findings from Phase I remained consistent in Phase II, though there are some exceptions: for example, suicide ideation rates.

"In Phase I, we identified an overall rate of 23 percent of the sample reporting suicidal thought in 'the past 2 weeks.' In Phase II, the rate was identified as 17 percent for the overall sample," Sevig says.

Additionally, the rate of international students who reported ever seeking counseling, though less than domestic students, jumped significantly to 19.4 percent in Phase II from 9.4 percent in Phase I.

Another new finding involved incoming students. "That 22.6 percent of first year students reported having ever been in counseling most likely suggests some students are coming to campus having received services while in high school," Sevig says.

Overall, the study found that mental health issues interfere with academics at the rate of 26 percent. "We believe these data continue to inform our practice, our service delivery efforts, and contribute to the national discourse on college student mental health, as we share the results with our peers," Soet says.

Details of phases I and II are available online at

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